Neigh­bor held for trial in deadly dis­pute

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

Clay­ton P. Carter III wanted to be sure.

He had just fired a shot from his .380 cal­iber semi-au­to­matic at his neigh­bor, Ge­orge Brooks Jen­nings, with whom he had been hav­ing a long run­ning dis­pute and who was con­fronting him once again out­side their side-by­side homes on Box Elder Drive in West Goshen. But he did not know whether the bul­let had struck Jen­nings, or whether he was fak­ing in­jury when he fell to the ground on his back.

So — ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony from a West Goshen de­tec­tive who in­ter­viewed him about six hours af­ter the shoot­ing that left Jen­nings, a 51-year-old fa­ther of one, fa­tally wounded — Carter moved to­wards him, raised his weapon again, and fired di­rectly into Jen­nings’ head.

“He told me he shot Mr. Jen­nings twice,” De­tec­tive David S. Mau­rer tes­ti­fied in Mag­is­te­rial Dis­trict Judge Wil­liam Kraut’s court­room dur­ing a 90-minute long pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing, at the con­clu­sion of which Kraut or-

dered Carter held for trial on charges of first-de­gree murder, third-de­gree murder, vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, ag­gra­vated as­sault, weapons not to be car­ried with­out a li­cense, and pos­ses­sion of an in­stru­ment of crime.

“The first shot, he didn’t know if it hit him or not,” Mau­rer said un­der ques­tion­ing from Deputy Dis­trict At­tor­ney Thomas Ost-Prisco, who is lead­ing the pros­e­cu­tion, re­lat­ing what Carter told him in a re­coded in­ter­view at the West Goshen Po­lice Depart­ment on Aug. 8. “The sec­ond shot, he aimed and shot him in the head.”

Mau­rer em­pha­sized that Carter told him that he be­lieved Jen­nings might have been pre­tend­ing to have been hit and was still mov­ing af­ter the first shot was fired. “He might be try­ing to trick him,” Mau­rer said of Carter’s state­ment. So he stepped for­ward al­most di­rectly over Jen­nings body and fired de­ci­sively.

Tes­ti­mony at the some­times con­tentious pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing did not re­veal whether Jen­nings had died from the first shot that Carter fired or the sec­ond. Bu ac­cord­ing to Ch­ester County De­tec­tive Keith Cow­dright, who at­tended Jen­nings’ au­topsy the fol­low­ing day, the vic­tim had in­deed suf­fered two gun­shot, one in his left cheek and one to the right side of his face.

Carter’s at­tor­ney, Joseph P. Green Jr. of West Ch­ester, pressed Mau­rer on whether Jen­nings had been on his own prop­erty when he was shot, or whether Carter had told him that he be­lieved Jen­nings was mov­ing to­wards him when he fired the sec­ond time. Carter’s pre­vi­ous at­tor­ney had con­tended that carter acted in self-de­fense in the in­ci­dent, and that Jen­nings — with who he had been ar­gu­ing heat­edly with just mo­ments be­fore — had a hunt­ing knife with him when they con­fronted one an­other.

Mau­rer said that Jen­nings’ body was on his prop­erty when he died, al­though he could not place the prop­erty line specif­i­cally, and that Carter had not men­tioned see­ing Jen­nings move to­wards him when he fired. He said Carter told him only that one of Jen­nings’ hands was mov­ing be­fore the sec­ond shot.

Ost-Prisco did not com­ment at the end of the hear­ing. Green, on the other hand, sug­gested that the case would be tried at Com­mon Pleas Court in West Ch­ester. “We look for­ward to an op­por­tu­nity to pre­sent all the facts at trial,” he said.

Carter, a ruddy-faced, portly man wear­ing a blue dress shirt and khakis, grum­bled when asked by a re­porter out­side the Ch­ester County Gov­ern­ment Ser­vices Cen­ter, where Kraut’s court is lo­cated, what he thought of the charges against him. “Mind your own busi­ness,” he said.

He was re­turned to Ch­ester County Prison af­ter the hear­ing, where he has been held with­out bail since his arrest. A trial would not be con­vened un­til some­time next year at the ear­li­est. Green is ex­pected to file pre-trial mo­tions ask­ing that charges against his client be dis­missed.

Ost-Prisco and Green sparred ver­bally dur­ing the hear­ing over whether or not Kraut should con­sider hear-say tes­ti­mony from the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors as­signed to the case, in­stead of the first­hand wit­nesses they in­ter­viewed. The pair have a past his­tory of con­tentious court­room con­fronta­tions.

Pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing rules al­low the pros­e­cu­tion to pre­sent some tes­ti­mony that would oth­er­wise be ruled in­ad­mis­si­ble as hearsay, but Green said the tes­ti­mony OstPrisco pre­sented — about state­ments from Jen­nings’ wife and the con­clu­sions of a foren­sic pathol­o­gist, for ex­am­ple — went be­yond the bound­aries o what is per­mis­si­ble.

“This is a con­scious ef­fort (by the pros­e­cu­tion) to push the rules out of the way,” Green told Kraut at one point.

“No, these are the rules. The rules are set up this way,” ar­gued Ost-Prisco.

Kraut gen­er­ally al­lowed Ost-Prisco to have the po­lice wit­nesses tes­tify about state­ments from other wit­nesses, but did strike some ev­i­dence about whether carter’s DNA had been found on the knife at the scene. Green had pointed out that the wit­ness — Ch­ester County De­tec­tive Christo­pher Bucci — did not know the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of the DNA tech­ni­cian who told him that only Carter’s DNA had been found.

Ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties, the de­fen­dant and vic­tim were next-door neigh­bors. Po­lice had been called to Box Elder Drive the evening of Aug. 7 at 7:50 p.m. be­cause the pair were ar­gu­ing, ap­par­ently over prob­lems that Jen­nings had with the way that Carter was be­hav­ing around his son and other neigh­bor­hood chil­dren. Po­lice re­solved that dis­pute con­cern­ing curs­ing and back­yard video record­ing.

Carter has a his­tory of vi­o­lent out­burst and was pros­e­cuted at one point for ram­ming his truck into the very house he was liv­ing in at the time of the shoot­ing, which is owned by his fa­ther-in-law.

Ac­cord­ing to county De­tec­tive John O’Don­nell, Jen­nings’ wife, Jill Jen­nings, heard the pair ar­gu­ing out­side the house some­time af­ter mid­night Aug. 8, when she had got­ten out of bed and come down­stairs to do some work.

The two men had con­fronted one an­other af­ter Carter came home from a trip to the su­per­mar­ket and found Jen­nings car block­ing a park­ing spot in front of his house. He went inside, re­trieved a hand­gun he owned, and walked out­side to move his car.

“She said she heard what she de­scribed as el­e­vated voices or an ar­gu­ment” be­tween the two men,” O’Don­nell said, de­scrib­ing an in­ter­view he did with Jill Jen­nings about 4 a.m. that day. She said the ar­gu­ment went “back and forth,” with her hus­band be­rat­ing carter for call­ing kids names, and be­lit­tling Carter for liv­ing un­der his fa­ther-in-law’s roof.

“It was a back and forth name call­ing con­test,” O’Don­nell told Kraut. “Brooks was try­ing to make some progress, though. He said, ‘How can we make this work. How can we get along in the neigh­bor­hood.’ He wanted to get along.”

But then, O’Don­nell said, Jill Jen­nings heard her neigh­bor dare her hus­band to come to­wards him. “Cross the prop­erty line,” she said she heard. “I want you to cross the prop­erty line.” Jen­nings did not know at that point that Carter had armed him­self.

“She said she heard a shot, or a fire­cracker,” O’Don­nell said. “She didn’t know what it was, but it alarmed her.” She looked out a front win­dow to see her hus­band ly­ing on the ground in a fe­tal po­si­tion and Carter look­ing down over him.

“Clay­ton Carter had a gun in his hand and she saw Clay­ton Carter look­ing at her hus­band,” O’Don­nell tes­ti­fied. “And he fired one more shot.”

Clay­ton Carter Iii

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